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Refill this Cup

Dilemma shows inherent flaws with great tournament

Posted: Friday February 8, 2008 10:35AM; Updated: Friday February 8, 2008 2:45PM
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Just 10 weeks after its title-winning triumph, Team USA is fielding the same A-list team to open its Davis Cup defense this weekend.
Just 10 weeks after its title-winning triumph, Team USA is fielding the same A-list team to open its Davis Cup defense this weekend.
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No, your TV isn't broken. Unless you're tuned into ESPN Classic, the tennis you see in front of you isn't a replay of the U.S. clinching the 2007 Davis Cup -- it's actually already the first match of the '08 Davis Cup.

It's hard to believe, but a mere 10 weeks after their heroic victory against Russia, the American boys are in Austria, playing on their arch-nemesis: slippery red clay.

But what's more amazing -- or impressive, depending on where you stand on the controversial Davis Cup scheduling -- is that Team USA rallied around the challenging circumstances and fielded its A-team in Vienna.

While Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Andy Murray took a pass on the physically and emotionally taxing competition, Andy Roddick, James Blake and Bob and Mike Bryan are all ready to lay it on the line to defend their hard-earned title.

They certainly weren't pumped about flying across the Atlantic to play on a surface that, as Roddick told me, "makes huge holes when you slide." But, he was quick to add, "This is going to be how it is -- we know it isn't going to be easy, but we're a team, and we're going to fight to defend what we worked so hard to win."

Keep that in mind as you keep reading about other top players begging off. As Team USA captain Patrick McEnroe told me, "The main story going around this week is about the top players not playing Davis Cup. Well, guess what? Despite winning it all of 10 weeks ago, all of our guys are doing it again. Who else can say that?"

Although I understand the challenges that arise from an overloaded ATP Tour calendar, I'm still repeatedly disappointed that Davis Cup is often sacrificed. The rigors of the ATP schedule are well-noted, and when I was on the ATP Player Council, creating a more harmonious schedule with the ITF (which controls Davis Cup competition) was always on the top of the agenda.

Sadly, the ITF is unwilling to make seemingly obvious adjustments. The Davis Cup should use the Ryder Cup as its model. Golf's international team tournament is played every two years in order to help guarantee maximum participation and build momentum for the prestigious event.

The Davis Cup should be celebrated and revered. It's the largest annual team competition in sports, with 127 nations competing this year. However, because of a confusing format where winning teams are capable of being dethroned only 10 weeks after their coronation, it minimizes the allure.

Paul Annacone, men's head coach of the Lawn Tennis Association, agrees that the ITF needs to recognize how much tennis is losing by not making the necessary adjustments.

"It's a shame when an event with the historical magnitude of Davis Cup has been relegated to a value far below its worth due to an antiquated format and an unwillingness to adapt and adjust with the times," he says. "Instead, it confuses non-tennis sports fans and is merely an afterthought on the global stage of sports. As a result, a number of the top players in our sport continue to skip Davis Cup, which should send a message that something needs to be addressed."

From the ITF's perspective, it's the priority, and the ATP calendar isn't. The ITP runs the Grand Slams and Davis Cup, and as far as it's concerned, those are the marquee events. The ITF also says it feels a responsibility to smaller nations whose primary source of funding is from Davis Cup -- countries like Israel, Sweden and Zimbabwe, which don't have built-in money makers like Slams or Masters Series events.

Be that as it may, what would people think if the New York Giants had to start defending their Super Bowl title in mid-April on the road in Green Bay? Or if the Boston Red Sox had to defend their World Series crown in a seven-game series with the Mets that began just after New Year's Day? It makes no sense.

Teams, players and fans need and deserve the chance to savor their victories and regroup for the next season. Tennis players are no different.

I have no doubt Team USA will put in a great effort this weekend in Austria, but they shouldn't have to. It's time the ITF woke up.

Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob writes on alternate Fridays for SI.com.